Italian Red Wine: Brunello di Montalcino

Although it’s been around for a little more than 150 years, Brunello is one of Italy’s most famous and revered (not to mention expensive) wines. Paul Pettengale discovers why…

No doubt the first thing you’ll clock will be the prices. These are not typos. The sad fact is, if you’re after viticultural perfection (and these wines are pretty darn close), then you’ve got to reach deep into your pockets. There. It’s said. Let’s not dwell on the price of Brunello any more – let’s take a look at what makes these wines so special, and then enjoy a taste or seven.

Brunello di Montalcino is made using a clone of the Sangiovese grape variety (called Brunello, ‘the little brown one’) first planted in the area surrounding the walled Tuscan town of Montalcino in the mid-1800s by Clemente Santi, a local, experimental wine producer. He soon realised he’d struck gold, with wine not unlike the local Chianti wines, but with a fleshier texture and a tremendous depth of flavour. But what made this new type of wine particularly remarkable is its ability to age – it’ll improve and improve the longer it’s in the bottle. And that can be a very long time indeed. In fact journalists were recently treated to wines from 1888 and 1891 vintages held in the Biondi-Santi cellars and they were still in perfect shape.

Hence its cost. Expensive now, it’ll only get better – and increase in value – as it gets older. Many bottles are bought in bond and held in environmentally controlled cellars as investment. And we think that’s a bit of a shame…


Italia! discovery of the month

Poggio Antico 2004Brunello di Montalcino 2004, Poggio Antico

From Berkmann Wine Cellars

Price £52.99

Extremely well respected within the Montalcino zone, Poggio Antico has around 200 hectares of land in the area, though it’s mainly woodland and olive groves. Thankfully, however, it chooses to grow vines also, and its wines are at the pinnacle of what’s achievable with the Brunello version of the Sangiovese grape variety.

This is largely down to the altitude at which the grapes grow. At 450 metres above sea level they’re among the highest in the Montalcino region, with ample, brisk breezes that negate the need to use sprays to kill off pests and fungi. The vines are regularly pruned of grapes during the summer so that concentration of flavour is increased in the grape bunches that are left.

And what a result! With red fruit and spice aromas and a tremendous concentration of crunchy fruit flavours and fleshy, silky-smooth tannins, this Brunello is among the best we’ve ever tasted and deservedly takes our Discovery of the Month award.


Barbi 2004 (red)Brunello di Montalcino 2007, Fattoria dei Barbi

From Great Western Wine


We’ve got two bottles of Brunello from Barbi in our selection. This is the ‘basic’ one, though to describe it as such fails to do it justice. It has an earthy, gamey aroma with oak and spice. In the mouth it’s a very rich, meaty wine with dense, dark fruit. The finish is expressive and lasts an age. As with all these wines (see the boxout opposite) this will improve massively with age. Drinking well now, however.

Great with…

Roasted game birds, goose or duck. Would work with lamb stew as well.


Brunello di MontalcinoBrunelo di Montalcino 2007, Argiola san Guiseppe

From Berry Bros & Rudd


As you’d expect when you reach these dizzy heights in the price of wine, this is a majestic, towering wine of immense power. It will take a decade or more for it to fully mature, but even now this 14 per cent big hitter impresses with dark forest aromas backed up by gentle violets and a touch of leather. It has tightly controlled fruit and ample tannic structure with a finish as long as any piece of string. Remarkable.

Great with…

Get out the big guns and go hunting for wild boar. Or go to the butchers.


Da VinciBrunello di Montalcino ‘Da Vinci’ 2007, Cantine Leonardo

From Liberty Wines


Open this beauty up and you’re rewarded with a powerful aroma, taking in ripe dark fruit (plums, cherries), spice and wood smoke. It doesn’t disappoint when sipped, either, with a very full, fleshy body and finely structured tannins. Deeply coloured and very rich, you’d be advised to take this nice and slow, with friends or family and a great slab of roasted rib of beef.

Great with…

Roasted red meats – beef especially. The fattier, the better (rib is perfect).


il poggioneBrunello di Montalcino 2006, Il Poggione

From Majestic Wine


With 125 hectares of land under vine in the Montalcino region, Il Poggione is one of the largest producers in the area. Perhaps that’s why this wine is (relatively) cheap at £26 a bottle from Majestic. It’s got a lovely violet and vanilla nose, with fat, dense fruit flavours with hints of chocolate and raisins. It’s not quite as fleshy as some of the other wines we’ve tasted. Consider it to be a good starting point for your journey of discovery.

Great with…

Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb or a flash-fried rump or sirloin steak.


BarbiBrunello di Montalcino Riserva 2004, Fattoria dei Barbi

From Great Western Wine


Fattoria dei Barbi only makes its Riserva wines during the very best growing years, and 2004 is its most recent. Spending extra time in the bottle before release gives this wine a greater depth and concentration of flavour compared to the other Barbi wine we’ve tasted (opposite), if that could be considered possible. Black cherries abound with a very long, engaging finish.

Great with…

You need rich, powerful dishes to cope with this. How about duck ragù?


PiancornelloBrunello di Montalcino 2007, Piancornello

From Waitrose


Waitrose is superb at finding superlative wines and offering them to us all at brilliant prices. This wine punches well above its weight with a cherry and spice aroma with a touch of bitter chocolate. To taste it has plenty of powerful fruit yet remains delicate and well controlled. The tannins are in evidence, but don’t attempt to rule the roost, letting the fruit and fine acidity balance the wine. A long, intense finish will soon have you returning for more.

Great with…

A stew made with steak and diced pheasant topped with a disc of puff pastry.


So, when to pull the cork?

All of the Brunello di Montalcino wines on these pages are less than a decade old. Although they’re drinking well now, tasting them at this stage in their lives is, frankly, a bit of a travesty (the sacrifices we make in the name of journalism, eh?). Ten years should really be considered the minimum before a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino is opened. Ideally 20 or more. Then these very fine wines will have had a chance to develop to their true potential. If you’d like to savour what Brunello has to offer (and save yourself a fair few quid into the bargain), then seek out the other wine made in the Montalcino zone. Vino Rosso di Montalcino is very similar in style and can be drunk much younger – from three-to-five years onwards. Bottles can be bought for around £15-£20.